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'Intelligent discontent is the mainspring of civilization.' -- Eugene V. Debs

Wednesday, August 31, 2005

One of Those Obligatory "Going on Vacation" Blog Posts 

As Richard mentioned below, I'm going on vacation to southern India for the next three weeks. Never been there; don't know what to expect; don't know what the internet situation is going to be like, but probably this will be my last post for a while. Richard's filling in.

Everybody play nice. Don't burn the place down. No wild parties in the comments section. Don't feed the trolls, etc., etc.

Tuesday, August 30, 2005

Guest Blogger for September 

Joe is departing for parts unknown, so the blog has been turned over to me. Hopefully, he is travelling somewhere that will enable him to escape, at least partially, the ubiquitous communications technologies that shape our lives. Having just spent two weeks in Venezuela, bound to a relentless Global Exchange tour schedule that sharply reduced radio, television and Internet access to a bare minimum (not to mention the obvious fact that I don't understand Spanish very well), I can confidently say that there is something quite liberating about being compelled to focus your attention on other living, breathing human beings. Similarly, I went over a week without knowing anything that was transpiring in the United States, and that was wonderful. Somebody mentioned that Peter Jennings had died, and I thought that they were delusional. Likewise, I had no idea that Cindy Sheehan was intensifying middle class opposition to the war, something that I described here a few months ago. Unfortunately, it seems just about impossible to escape cell phones.


As frequent readers of this blog already know, I live in Northern California, and co-host a radio program, with an emphasis upon peace, civil rights, labor and environmental issues, on KDVS 90.3 FM in Davis, CA. It is possible to listen to KDVS programming live over the Internet, and shows are archived for one week after broadcast. Sadly, it appears that KDVS is a great rarity, a non-commericial, free form radio station administered by a student cooperative, with complete control over content, except for limitations imposed by the FCC. Amazingly, people in Venezuela were delighted by my involvement in alternative radio, which, in retrospect shouldn't have been such a big surprise given monolithic opposition to Chavez in the private media, and it was frequently highlighted during translated introductions.


Many of my postings during September will be based upon my observations during my time in Venezuela. Furthermore, Richard Gott has just published an updated version of his book about Chavez, now titled Hugo Chavez and the Bolivarian Revolution, and I hope to post a review of it as well. As a journalist with a long history of covering Central and South America, Gott provides an invaluable perspective about what has politically transpired in Venezuela over the last 20 years. Other possibilities include posts about the dire conditions faced by workers in China, as recently discussed in Granta and the New Left Review, and a review of a new edition of David Cortwright's Soldiers in Revolt, his book about rebellion inside the US military during the Vietnam War. Howard Zinn correctly observes in the introduction that this reissue couldn't be more timely.


Over the last few months, I have blogged periodically here about current events, but usually in an elliptical way outside of the news cycle. For me, it is important to blog about things that are frequently ignored by both the media and activists. Personally, I believe that there is a need to reconstruct a social and cultural understanding of our political beliefs, a need to place them in broader, more enduring context. With this in mind, I hope that you find my posts of interest. If not, don't worry, Joe and his incisive commentary will return. And, in the meantime, who knows? Joe might just stop by every now and then when you least expect it.



--Richard Estes


Wednesday, August 24, 2005

A Fount of Barking Idiocy 

As long time readers of this blog are surely aware I've kind of been phoning it in all summer, last night, however, I took ten minutes and wrote a post about Pat Robertson calling for the assassination of Hugo Chavez. That post surprisingly got some play; apparently I was the only commentator who took the time to, umm, summarize the basic facts of recent Venezuelan history. Since then, the whole Robertson story turned into a big bloggy mess, John Stewart mentioned it, etc. ... which is odd given that normally Venezuela seems to exist just beyond the event horizon of Ye Olde Memory Hole-- you know, perhaps if Tom Delay was somehow involved...

Anyway, I was kind of interested and surprised by the big and not so big rightwing bloggers' take on the matter. For instance this from The Captain's Quarters, which I gather is like a low-rent Instapundit:

When conservatives want to find something juicy to fisk, we turn to the Minneapolis Star Tribune. When liberals want to do the same, they turn to Pat Robertson, who fulfills much the same role as the Strib as a fount of barking idiocy. Today, score one for the port side of the blogosphere, as Media Matters notes Robertson's latest insanity on Hugo Chavez. On today's 700 Club, Robertson endorses the assassination plot that sprang from Chavez' overactive imagination [...] Unfortunately, we have to work a little harder to make it clear that calling for the assassination of a head of state of a country with which we are not in conflict amounts to political insanity.

or this from some other righty blog called "Outside the Beltway" which links favorably to the above:

Seventeen bloggers (and counting) are on the story that Pat Robertson is insane. This is hardly breaking news. [ ... ]

The usual suspects on the Left are weighing in, of course, lumping all of the Right in with Robertson. Since many on the Right do the same with Jesse Jackson and Michael Moore, I suppose that's par for the course.

Thankfully, Robertson is getting plenty of scorn from even the non-libertarian Right.

I really don't know what to make of these sorts of statements from these sorts of sources. Seriously I'm a little bit confused; I guess pleasantly confused.

Don't the Captain's Quarters guy and the Outside the Beltway guy get that Pat Robertson's idea really wasn't that radical? These people have been comparing Chavez to Castro as long as Chavez has been in power and, lord knows, it's not insane to talk about assassinating Castro -- just ask the CIA. So where is all this rightwing outrage coming from? Robertson called for some "covert operatives" to do a "job and then get it over with" and these guys are calling that insane? -- I'm sure that Salvador Allende would have a pertinent contribution to the discussion at this point if, you know, he wasn't dead.

I'm not saying that Allende's suicide was an assassination, because, lord knows, I can't support such a claim with hyperlinks, but what's on the public record is pretty clear: the US was actively involved in overthrowing a democratically elected president, aiding, to quote CNN, "coup-plotters, false propagandists and assassins". The project was ultimately successful and the democratically elected government of Chile was replaced with a brutal military dictatorship characterized primarily by its use of torture and terror against dissidents.

Which, I suppose, had there been a blogosphere back in 1973, would have gotten "plenty of scorn" from even "the non-libertarian Right."...

Monday, August 22, 2005

A Whole Lot Cheaper Than Starting a War 

Pat Robertson calls for the assassination of Hugo Chavez:

ROBERTSON: There was a popular coup that overthrew him [Chavez]. And what did the United States State Department do about it? Virtually nothing. And as a result, within about 48 hours that coup was broken; Chavez was back in power, but we had a chance to move in. He has destroyed the Venezuelan economy, and he's going to make that a launching pad for communist infiltration and Muslim extremism all over the continent.

You know, I don't know about this doctrine of assassination, but if he thinks we're trying to assassinate him, I think that we really ought to go ahead and do it. It's a whole lot cheaper than starting a war. And I don't think any oil shipments will stop. But this man is a terrific danger and the United ... This is in our sphere of influence, so we can't let this happen. We have the Monroe Doctrine, we have other doctrines that we have announced. And without question, this is a dangerous enemy to our south, controlling a huge pool of oil, that could hurt us very badly. We have the ability to take him out, and I think the time has come that we exercise that ability. We don't need another $200 billion war to get rid of one, you know, strong-arm dictator. It's a whole lot easier to have some of the covert operatives do the job and then get it over with.

I like the bit at the beginning about the "popular coup" that overthrew Chavez that America did "nothing about". You know, given the sort of coverage that recent Venezuelan history has received from our so-called liberal media, it's not surprising that even someone as high-profile as Robertson can lie so blatantly on a rightwing operation like the 700 Club but it is nonetheless reprehensible.

A few facts are not controversial and speak volumes. Chavez won two elections, one in '98 and another in '02 by the largest margins in recent memory. He was overthrown by a coup orchestrated by the Venezuelan elite, demonstrably with American aid although the extent of which isn't clear, in 2002 leading to a popular uprising. The Venezuelan military refused to support the coup and Chavez was fairly quickly reinstated. At that point, the cabal of corporate interests arrayed against him attempted to free themselves of Chavez through legal means engineering a recall vote that Chavez beat by landslide almost exactly a year ago. Chavez is now polling around 80% and guys like Robertson are left longing for happier times, the good old '80's when Ronald Reagan knew how to handle brown-skinned leftists.

For what it's worth, here's Al Giordano of Narco News on what is known of the US involvement in the coup:

A report would appear two days later in the daily Panamá América newspaper that shed light on how oil union boss Carlos Ortega, the number-two coup organizer (among the Venezuelans involved) second only to oilman-turned-dictator-for-a-day Pedro Carmona, became head of the oil union and consequently of Venezuela's equivalent of the AFL-CIO.

Translated by The Narco News Bulletin:

"Months ago, we warned that the U.S. government had put a plan in march to topple Venezuela's president Hugo Chávez. Working with agents of the CIA and with members of the military group that the Pentagon maintains in Caracas to supervise U.S. arms sales in the region, the strategies from the Potomac joined forces with the opponents of the president. Bankers, businessmen and politicians donated funds createeat the marches and protest that detonated the crisis. Money from the opposition served to influence union elections and the control of the petroleum workers union, the most important in Venezuela…"


Narco News has learned that the CIA headquarters for organizing, distributing said cash, and engineering the attempted coup d'etat, was the office known as the MIL GROUP. That's the name by which the US Military Liason staff in Embassies - "usually a repository for fixers and grafters pitching Department of Defense sponsored weapons sales to third world satrapies," as one source colorfully explained to Narco News - had, according to another well-placed source, greatly increased its staff size in the weeks prior to the attempted coup.

We presume the increase in personnel - or individuals posing as personnel at the MIL GROUP - was not due to a sudden desire by Washington to sell more arms to the Chavez government.

Thursday, August 11, 2005

The ACLU vs. The DoD 

For those following the story that might be called Abu Ghraib Part II, there was a some news today.

Some legal documents were unsealed today in which the ACLU petitions a federal court to force the military to release the as-yet-unseen Abu Ghraib material depicting Americans engaging in behavior that Rumsfeld once chracterized as "blatantly sadistic, cruel, and inhuman" -- we're talking rape and torture, here.

Here's a bit of the press release:

In legal papers unsealed today, the American Civil Liberties Union urged a federal court to order the release of photographs and videos that depict the abuse and torture of prisoners in U.S. custody at Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq. The ACLU also asked the court to reject the government's attempt to file some of its legal arguments in secret.

"The ACLU shares everyone's deep concern about the dangers facing American soldiers in Iraq and elsewhere," said ACLU Executive Director Anthony D. Romero. "The actions depicted in these photos and videos demonstrate the failure of American leaders who placed our young men and women in compromising situations and are now seeking to blame them for it. The real shame here is that our leaders left our troops out on a limb and now they are hiding behind a veil of rank and government office to avoid accountability."

Romero noted that until the first photos of detainee abuse at Abu Ghraib were made public in April 2004, the government had consistently denied that any wrongdoing had taken place despite news reports to the contrary. Since then, the ACLU has obtained through a court order more than 60,000 pages of government documents regarding torture and abuse of detainees.

Despite this evidence, the government continues to minimize the extent of the torture and to describe it as the action of a few rogue soldiers. In response, the ACLU has called for an independent counsel with subpoena power to investigate the torture scandal, including the role of senior policymakers, and has filed a separate lawsuit to hold Secretary Rumsfeld and high-ranking military officers accountable.

And, as usual, the ACLU has posted scans of the actual documents at the usual place if you're interested.

Vanunu on Iran and Israel 

Here's an interview with Mordechai Vanunu from Australia's SBS radio. SBS introduces the piece as follows:

There are double-standards at play over nuclear proliferation, when the world focuses on Iran's nuclear program, while ignoring Israel's possession of nuclear weapons.

That's the view of convicted Israeli nuclear whistleblower Mordechai Vanunu.

Mr Vanunu was sentenced to 18 years for treason and espionage in 1986 after exposing details of Israel's nuclear program to the media.

Despite being forbidden by the Israeli government from speaking to foreign media, Mordechai Vanunu tells Rebecca Henschke, about what he describes as dangerous double-standards.

The point can't be made enough.

The biggest threat caused by Iran's pursuit of nuclear weapons is to Israel. As it stands, Israel is the only nuclear power in the Mideast proper; its hegemony over the area is rooted in this fact, and also of course it's rooted in Israel's special relationship with the US. But if Iran were to develop nukes, this simple dynamic would be a thing of the past and Israel would be forced to maintain its military superiority through strictly conventional means, possibly a very expensive proposition. Here's Roger Howard on the subject in an old piece from antiwar.com:

For any country, particularly one plagued with economic difficulties, the prospect of higher defense spending is always an alarming one. In the 1960s, for example, Shimon Peres and Moshe Dayan argued passionately for the development of an Israeli nuclear weapon because without one they would be caught up in an increasingly hopeless arms race against Arab neighbors with generous Soviet supplies and with buoyant economies that would more easily allow them to fund such rivalry. An Israeli bomb, argued Peres and Dayan, would instead render such expenditure unnecessary until, or unless, their Arab enemies eventually caught up and developed their own.

Although there is a wide gulf between the Shi'ite Persians and the Arabs, in Israeli eyes the development of a bomb by the Iranians, whose hard-line clerics have always screamed abuse at the Jewish state, would remove this long-held nuclear advantage at a single stroke. In one sense Israel's position would revert back to that of the mid-1960s, when it was forced to rely only upon the superiority of its conventional forces.

Cindy Sheehan 

Here's a bit of Nader's open letter to Cindy Sheehan:

Authenticity, bereft of contrivances, is what must confront this White House Misleader. And authenticity is what you are and what drives you as you demand to see this resistant President. He is on an intermittent month long vacation, with spells for fundraisers and other insulated events. His schedule provides ample time for such a meeting. You reflect the hopes and prayers of millions of like-minded Americans. Should he relent and opens his doors, be sure to ask why he lowballs U.S. casualties in Iraq, deleting and disrespecting soldiers seriously hurt or sickened in the Iraq war theatre, but not in direct combat. Remind him of those soldiers back in military hospitals who, with their families, wonder why they are not being counted as they cope with their serious and permanent disabilities. (60 Minutes, CBS program). Ask him why, despite Pentagon audits and GAO investigations about corruption, waste and non-delivery of services in Iraq by profiteering large corporations totaling billions of dollars, this Commander of Chief accepted campaign contributions from their executives and proceeds to let this giant corporate robbery continue without the requisite law and order?

Also I liked this piece about the rightwing smear campaign against her which pretty much just states the obvious but, hey, somebody had to say it:

Within 48 hours after Cindy marched on Bush’s Texas ranch, the long knives were being sharpened. Instead of answering her questions, the Rove squads made the decision to give her the “Valerie Plame” treatment. Plaming is a two-step process -- first you denigrate the offending serf in the public square. You then call in the mass media muscle guys to dump the remains some place where the victim can safely be ignored. In keeping with the game plan, CNN and FOX are back filming the endless soap opera in Aruba and monitoring shark attacks and Tsunamis. If only they could spare that kind of coverage for Cindy Sheehan -- George Bush would be permanently retired in Crawford and the neo-con brigades would be sharing bunks in a federal penitentiary.

According to Kos commenters apparently with first hand knowledge, today is the day that they're supposed to sic the wolves on her ... so we'll have to wait and see what happens. Here's the source of the rumor:

I got Cindy on the phone and she continued to maintain that the threat of arrest was real, but said that it came to her via Diane Wilson. I spoke to Diane, who said that it came from Texas State Rep Lon Burman, a Democrat. She said that he was not speaking on behalf of or communicating any information from the Bush Administration or the Secret Service or the Sheriff's Department. But she maintained that what he had predicted was already starting.

Both Sheehan and Wilson said that the County Sherrif's deputies on Saturday identified several areas as county property on which they could stand. Now they claim that most of these area are private property, and that they had not known that. So, this afternoon the deputies forced Cindy and about 25 people with her onto one small area on one side of a road.

Personally, I'll be a little bit surprised if Cindy Sheehan gets arrested. The popularity of Bush's war is now in the low thirties ... to Karl Rove this Cindy Sheehan story probably seems like a small fire in the media that it's best not to fuel.

Sunday, August 07, 2005

Speaking in Tongues 

So I was a guest on Richard's radio show on Friday ... Here's the RealAudio stream anyone's interested.

Monday, August 01, 2005

The Experiment 

This weekend I finally got around to reading Jane Mayer's "The Experiment", a New Yorker piece arguing that the US is using Gitmo as a laboratory in which to test out interrogation techniques. Mayer interviewed the anonymous source that wrote to Juan Cole several months ago about the similarities between the descriptions of the abuse at Abu Ghraib and Gitmo and the pretend abuse that US personnel are subjected to in the military's secretive SERE program. SERE stands for "Survival, Evasion, Resistance, and Escape" -- it's a weird program in which American forces are subjected to mock detention by a hostile state to prepare them in case they ever actually are captured by some enemy.

Anyway in December I transcribed a heavily redacted document in which the FBI criticized the interrogation techniques being used at Gitmo, and wondered about one of the redacted words -- my thought was that the missing word was probably "torture". Well, Mayer mentions a similar document but she seems to have seen a less redacted version: she saw a document in which the FBI complains of the use of SERE techniques. Here's the relevant paragraph:

The Pentagon has argued that Qahtani’s treatment was rough but always “humane.” However, documents released by the A.C.L.U. reveal that F.B.I. officials were disturbed when they learned of it. In May, 2004, for instance, an F.B.I. memo entitled “Detainee Interviews (Abusive Interrogation Issues)” noted the Bureau’s “concerns” and “objections” to “sere techniques to interrogate prisoners.”

I now wonder if the redaction I speculated about last winter was "SERE"...

Yama Fissign Mazaleem! 

Well, if you're going to read one blog post this summer, this is the one to read. It's Raed's brother Khalid's account of being arrested as a terrorist in occupied Iraq (Raed of Raed in the Middle, which is, if you're unfamiliar with it, the blog of a secular Iraqi leftist). Khalid's crime was reading the comments of Raed in the Middle on a public computer.

Here's an excerpt:

If you were wondering how did we spend our time in jail... I’ll tell you.

We read Quran a lot, we prayed five times a day, we had three meals a day, and we praise God for long periods of time too. We sat all together talking and telling jokes and stories about our lives...

At night, while trying to sleep, I mostly was thinking of what I should write in my next post!

I always had the hope that I would leave that place, time goes really slow there, when I used to feel sad I would think of the nice places that I would go to when I leave, and all the other positive ideas that would keep me happy, I asked people: what is the first thing you want to do when you leave this place?

And we all sat thinking of the nice things we want to do ... the things we want to eat, the places we want to visit; it was a hope-generating game.

My family played an important role to help me get out of the Mukhabarat’s jail faster than other people. Like any other corrupt system, you can get a better treatment by knowing the right people and giving the right "gifts". My family didn’t pay anything to the judge because they believed I was innocent, they tried their best to get me a lawyer, but they couldn’t. I was freed because I was innocent, and I have the capabilities to defend myself in front of a judge.

The question is: what about the rest of Iraqis? The ones who don’t have the money or the power to leave places like that? The innocent people who were taken away from their families and loved ones and accused of false crimes? What happens to them? Who will stand for them? What about human rights? What about civil rights? What about humanity?

And here is this:

Whenever someone new arrives, I had this bad feeling in my stomach, its sick, and it keeps happening to other people everyday.
One of the guys there, Msaid, was so sad, he has been there for about 50 days, he never says a word, he never speaks to anyone, no one knows what he is accused of cause he wouldn’t talk, and I wouldn’t tell you about this if I didn’t see it with my own eyes, Msaid haven’t eat a bite since over 40 days, we all live in the same place and its easy to keep track of that, people there watch him and be him to eat every now and then, all they hear from him is: I don’t feel like eating.
Guys I haven’t lost my mind in jail, its true, and I saw it myself, Msaid drinks water only.

I really learned that yama fissign mazaleem!
Which is an Egyptian saying says that many of those in prison are really innocent.
I learned also the value of freedom, now just looking from the window or going out in the street is a lot of fun to me, I learned to appreciate freedom.

May God free everyone that is under such great injustice, and send them back home to their families and friends, about us, we will do what we can to make sure that happens, any kind of help that you can offer, any legal help or support from human right groups will be much appreciated and evaluated, we must do all we can to try to get some rights to those arrested, and being arrested in occupied Iraq, everyday.

Anyway, I don't know really what to say other than that this is the democracy that George Bush brought to Iraq, and that if we Americans are ever going to look at ourselves in the mirror again we have to tear down Abu Ghraib and the Bagram Collection Point and Camp Bucca and get those people out of Guantanamo Bay.

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